John Wooden’s Legacy
“You haven’t taught until they have learned.” With this simple phrase and his dedication to constant improvement, John Wooden sparked a revolution in coaching strategies. From a coach in Ohio who turned his basketball team around with Wooden’s personal advice, to coaches in Uganda who devoted themselves to his principles without ever having met him, the six-time NCAA Coach of the Year has had a fundamental impact on the way coaches instruct their players.
Wooden, a firm believer that anyone who is “through learning, is through,” constantly worked to improve his own coaching methods and never hesitated to constructively correct a player’s technique. He kept his critiques concise and specific, always careful never to coddle nor be too harsh in his feedback. He periodically identified areas in his coaching that could be improved, researched the issues during the off-season, and implemented new methods until the players progressed. These and other strategies aided him in his efforts to continually become a better teacher and coach.
According to this article by AthleticManagement.com, Henry “Hank” Bias, a head boys’ basketball coach in Kettering, Ohio, used Wooden’s techniques to improve his team’s record of 3-17 to a record of 17-6 in only three years. He worked constantly during those years to better his own teaching methods, with encouragement from Wooden himself and Swen Nater, one of Wooden’s former players at UCLA. After realizing that his coaching had been disorganized and impeded by lengthy lectures in the middle of practices, Bias adopted Wooden’s philosophy of strict practice time frames, as well as planning each practice session’s objectives more concretely. Both during and after practices, Bias took notes on the drills that needed work; he would then review his notes and develop improvements based on what he had observed. Like Wooden, he kept his critiques short and no longer interrupted drills to give feedback. During the five years immediately following his switch to Wooden’s methods, the team’s record was the best since the 1920s.
Over 7,000 miles away in Uganda, coaches utilize Wooden’s philosophies in the same ways. One coach, Ayeet Timothy Odeke, followed Wooden’s teaching methods for six years before even reading one of his books. When he finally got the chance to visit UCLA, where Wooden won ten national championships, he described the experience as “surreal.” He and three other Ugandan coaches toured the campus and watched a video of Wooden teaching a sports psychology class. “The values and things he says are universal,” Odeke said. In Uganda, courts and basketball shoes are sometimes unavailable, and many youths in some villages are homeless or drug addicts. Odeke and the other coaches strive to engage children in sports to keep them out of trouble, using Wooden’s principles to help them achieve personal success.
According to Wooden, “Profound responsibilities come with teaching and coaching. You can do so much good–or harm. It’s why I believe that next to parenting, teaching and coaching are the two most important professions in the world.” By adapting and utilizing Wooden’s core philosophies, teachers and coaches alike can improve their student-athletes’ performance both in the classroom and on the court.
To learn more about Coach Wooden’s teaching principles, check out You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden’s Teaching Principles and Practices. The book was updated in 2010 with an afterword containing specific examples and anecdotes about Wooden’s methods. It is co-authored by Swen Nater, one of Wooden’s former players, and Ronald Gallimore.